The folk tale “Stone Soup” starts with a cooking pot that contains nothing more than water and a stone. As passersby add ingredients, it evolves into a tasty soup the entire village enjoys sharing.
Over the past few years, Hockinson Heights Elementary School has been cooking up its own version of Stone Soup, one that will enhance science education and is helping build community.
It started with a dream. Julie Paso, the school’s lead secretary, lost her 29-year-old sister to cancer in 2010. Because Wendy Muonio Paso had been a Hockinson student, Julie wanted to honor her with a bench on the elementary school grounds.
As she shared her idea with others, it began to evolve.
“I couldn’t believe how the project took off from there,” Julie Paso said.
PWT—the local parent-teacher organization—donated a gazebo and $3,000 toward what became known as the Legacy Garden. Staff members and families contributed a shed and tractor time for grading and compacting soil. Volunteers and staff assembled cedar planter boxes. They acquired rock, compost and seeds, and offered their time and energy. A contractor with the High School and Middle School construction projects donated a retaining wall. Art students and teachers painted a mural—which departing fifth graders now add to each year, incorporating flowers, birds and animals.
The Legacy Garden continues to grow. By next spring, each grade will have its own planter box to grow plants in, and Hockinson’s young scientists will get to study life science outside, year round.
“I’m excited about learning outside,” said Lyla, a fifth grader.
“I just love plants—they’re beautiful,” added her classmate Austin, as he pulled weeds from a planter box.
“Some kids do great sitting in a classroom, but some kids don’t,” said Principal Josh Robertson. “The garden will help provide multiple pathways for students to be engaged at school.”
The Legacy Garden goes hand-in-hand with the school’s recycling, composting and waste-reduction efforts, which recently earned the school a Washington Green Schools certification.
Last year the school implemented Sort Tables, where students sort recyclables, food waste and garbage, and a Share Table, where they leave unopened milk or packaged foods for others, instead of throwing it away. Students were amazed to watch as their cafeteria went from filling up four garbage bags a day down to one.
“All of this helps get students excited about science and creates a positive school culture,” Robertson said.
The Legacy Garden, which has been developed without the use of any public funds, has changed something else as well: “Some people who aren’t that comfortable volunteering in the classrooms are comfortable in the garden,” Robertson said. “We’re building school-community connections.”
As for Julie Paso’s dream of honoring her sister, she now envisions painting a special flower or a bouquet into the mural that forms the backdrop to the garden Wendy inspired.